Swati Mathur, Managing Director of Common Purpose Asia Pacific / 10 August 2023

This is what courageous leadership actually looks like

Our favourite novels might tell us that courage is seen in the biggest and boldest acts of bravery, but it actually reveals itself in many unexpected ways.


As Brene Brown poignantly puts it: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” This, more than any assumption an individual could make about courage, truly sums up the reality of adopting a mindset that enables it.

Here’s the thing about courage: We often believe that in order to appreciate a courageous act, it must be witnessed. But in reality, it’s something that we all possess, even when we may not look or feel courageous.

While our favourite novels might tell us that courage looks like the biggest, boldest acts of bravery, it actually reveals itself in many different, and often unexpected ways.

But with that said, the process of mustering up and then acting with courage isn’t linear; it is a mindset that develops when we are able to explore inside ourselves as much as we experience the world outside. 

So what does this look like? 

Finding your Sword of Power

Remember He-man and She-ra of Masters of the Universe? It was the sword of power that brought out the true potential of Prince Adams and turned him into He-man who had the courage to fight against evil and change the world for the better.

So the first step to being courageous is to look inwards and find your own sword of power. What is your power and what brings about your full potential?

Making your purpose the anchor

When you know what brings you joy and meaning, allow this to be the catalyst in mustering the courage to do it. Think of the famous biographical film Julie and Julia; it was Julie’s passion for cooking that gives her a sense of accomplishment, and despite Julia Child’s recipes being notoriously difficult for novice cooks, Julie dived head-first into trying to master each.

Embracing vulnerability

Much like Brene Brown’s quote has pin-pointed, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable. This can be as simple as voicing an opinion you believe in - even if your voice shakes, even if there are louder voices at the table, and even if you don’t know what the outcome will be.

At 11 years of age, Malala Yousafzai did exactly this. She stood up in a press club surrounded by people she didn’t know, and she delivered her first speech speaking out against the Taliban rule in Pakistan. This vulnerable, yet extremely courageous act led to her write a column under a pseudonym for the BBC where she informed an international audience of the injustices she endured as a woman in her country.  Now, she’s a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the world’s most respected advocates for women’s education.

Exercising flex

Courage also looks like allowing others to see you in a different light: Maybe you’ve been confined to a specific way of working as a leader, and any change to this may blindside you. But as organisations evolve, some practices and parameters need to change in order to achieve objectives more efficiently and with the right impact. So, you step outside of your comfort zone, and you instigate this change.

Being OK with experimentation

Courage could also look like calculating the possible outcomes of a risk, and appreciating that mistakes might be made. Still, you decide to do it anyway because you believe in the cause which could result in a greater outcome.

Think of Rosa Parks, who decided all those years ago to sit down on a bus seat knowing that she could be forcibly removed and arrested as a result of it. Despite that risk, she did it anyway, and she catalysed an extraordinary era of critical change and advocacy for equal rights.

Each of these examples encompass crucial traits that enable courageous leadership: Strength, creativity, knowledge, and an ability to embrace ambiguity. It also requires a growth mindset, and the agility to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. A sense of curiosity about the world around you is also necessary - how else will you be able to suspend your own assumptions, which will ultimately broaden your thinking and enable invaluable personal growth?

When all is said and done, the best thing about leading with courage isn’t arriving at a successful end goal. If you really think about it, real courage doesn’t have an ending - it’s contagious. If we practice it daily, both in the way we approach our own ideas, as well as applying it to our surroundings, it inspires others to also do the same. So go forth and roar with courage in your own, unique way; you might just discover a whole new world of thinking, and see others following suit.  




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